Sophomore Francesca Russo will return to the strip for the Irish at the Penn Elite Invitational for her first collegiate bouts since claiming the 2015 NCAA Women's Sabre Championship.

Irish Clinch Two Individual Titles, Finish Third at 2015 NCAA Championships

March 22, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The University of Notre Dame fencing team saw junior Lee Kiefer earn her third NCAA individual title, and freshman Francesca Russo her first at the 2015 NCAA Championships. The team as a whole finished third in the standings behind Columbia and Penn State, based on indicator (individual points scored for/against in each single bout) – Penn State had a +176 mark, while the Irish stood at +145.

“I am really excited for both champions, and the team put in such a great performance,” Irish head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia says. “My sincerest and deepest congratulations to Lee and Fran[cesca] on their phenomenal performances; their perseverance was inspiring to see. I’m happy to say that Lee has one year of eligibility left, and Francesca is only a freshman, so the future is bright for the Irish.”

Russo – the ninth freshman to win a title and first in women’s sabre since Sarah Borrman did so in ’08 – earned the No. 4 seed with her 15-8 record in pool play. Kiefer – the sixth fencer to win three titles her freshman through junior year – advanced with the No. 1 seed in her weapon class on the strength on her 21-2 pool-play mark.

Russo won her semifinal against defending NCAA champ Adrienne Jarocki (Harvard) 15-12, and went on to face Karen Chang from Penn State in the final. Chang, who is from Hong Kong, is a former pupil of recently-hired Irish sabre coach Samir Ibrahimov. Russo quickly went up on her opponent, leading 8-3 at the break. She continued to pace her Nittany Lion foe, going on to win 15-5. “I’m really happy I won; I’m a little upset with where the team finished, third place wasn’t what we came in hoping for but I’m trying to get over it and look ahead to next year,” Russo said of her first title.

In fact, Russo wasn’t even aware she had qualified for the semifinal bouts until a teammate came up and told her in the stands. Not knowing immediately may have paid off for the freshman, as she admitted, “I was trying to just have fun with these two bouts. I was just happy to have qualified and be in them to begin with, so my attitude was a little more laid back and relaxed heading into them.”

Kiefer squared off with St. John’s foilist Marta Hausman in her semifinal, winning easily, 15-7. She went on to face Columbia’s Margaret Lu in the title bout, winning 15-13. The two-point difference is the closest by which Kiefer has won any of her three titles, beating Lu’s teammate Jackie Dubrovich 15-8 in 2014, and beating Irish teammate Madison Zeiss 13-10 in 2014.

“I was so nervous during my final bout; I wasn’t very confident going into it, which made it a lot harder to fence than the other two,” she admitted candidly. “But winning in the end made this year that much sweeter because it was so different and harder than previous years. My strategy against Margaret was to start my feet slow, and focus on doing a lot more direct actions, and that strategy paid off.”

In epee, Nicole Ameli and Ashley Severson finished their Irish careers admirably, as Ameli went 3-5 on the second day to finish in 13th while Severson went 4-4 to finish ninth. Severson earned second-team All American honors and caps her career at 178-40, while Ameli finishes with a 183-85 record.

In sabre, Russo’s partner in crime Claudia Kulmacz had an outstanding first round, beating both Columbia sabreists (Anastasia Ivanoff, 5-3 and Lena Johnson, 5-2) in her first two bouts of the morning. She finished 11-12, good for 13th place.

Zeiss made her final appearance at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, and sported a 16-7 record that earned her fifth place in the standings and second-team All American accolades.

“I’m really exited to have been given the opportunity to compete with Notre Dame these last four years; I’m definitely sad to be done though, because this is the best place in the whole world to be at in fencing,” she admitted. “But, I’ll be back next year as an assistant coach. It will definitely be weird, not being on the strip but rather off to the side of it, but I’ll still be here and I’ll still be a part of the Notre Dame team.”

While the NCAA season may be completed, for a select few Irish fencers the international season remains in full swing. Stay tuned to for periodic updates on their travels and results.

Final Team Standings

1. Columbia – 165 points

2. Penn State – 156 points

3. Notre Dame – 156 points

4. Princeton – 148 points

5. Ohio State – 137 points

6. St. John’s – 137 points

7. Harvard – 129 points

8. Pennsylvania – 96 points

9. Duke – 67 points

10. Stanford – 65 points

11. Northwestern – 60 points

12. Air Force – 52 points

13. Brown – 44 points

14. NJIT – 41 points

15. Wayne State – 39 points

16. Sacred Heart – 28 points

17. Cornell – 26 points

18. Yale – 22 points

19. NYU – 16 points

20. Boston College – 16 points

21. UNC – 15 points

22. Temple – 15 points

23. Stevens Tech – 13 points

24. UC-San Diego – 10 points

25. M.I.T. – 3 points

Lizzie Mikes,

Media Services Coordinator